Purpose: Following radiation therapy, evaluation of viable tumor can often be difficult with anatomic imaging criteria (tumor size alone). In this study, the utility of biochemical imaging with the glucose analog 2-[F-18]fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose and positron emission tomography was investigated in patients treated with radiation therapy.
Methods and materials: Between 1990 and 1992, 19 patients were studied, including 15 patients with head and neck cancer, (4 oropharynx, 4 sinus, 3 larynx, 2 hypopharynx, 2 oral cavity [one patient], 1 nasopharynx), and 4 patients with breast cancer. Post-radiation positron emission tomography with 2-[F-18]fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose studies were done in all patients, with 9 head and neck patients receiving pre-radiation positron emission tomography with 2-[F-18]fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose scans as well. Results were correlated with other imaging techniques and pathology.
Results: Positron emission tomography with 2-[F-18]fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose detected head and neck primary tumors and lymph node metastases in all nine pre-radiation scans, while magnetic resonance imaging failed to detect two primary tumors. Serial positron emission tomography with 2-[F-18]fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose showed a significant decrease in tumor activity after radiation therapy, compared to pre-radiation levels, (p < 0.05), except for two patients with increased uptake at the primary site. Biopsies of these two patients showed persistent/recurrent disease after radiation therapy, which was not detected by magnetic resonance imaging. Six additional head and neck patients, with suspicious examination and inconclusive magnetic resonance imaging, were imaged with positron emission tomography after radiation therapy only. Five patients had increased positron emission tomography activity, with corresponding biopsies positive in four patients, and negative in one patient with clinically worsening symptoms. The remaining sixth patient had minimal and stable positron emission tomography uptake, and is improving clinically. Four patients had mammogram findings suspicious for recurrence after conservation treatment for breast cancer. Positron emission tomography with 2-[F-18]fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose showed no focal activity in the breast in two patients, and increased activity in the area suspicious for recurrence in the other two patients. Biopsies correlated with positron emission tomography results.
Conclusion: Changes and presence of positron emission tomography with 2-[F-18]fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose activity correlated with pathologic findings in head and neck and breast cancer patients in this series. In patients with elevated or rising positron emission tomography activity after radiation therapy, persistent or recurrent disease was found in 89% of patients, (8/9). Magnetic resonance imaging did not detect the head and neck recurrences, and mammography was suspicious in patients with both benign and malignant breast changes after radiation therapy. In addition, our data indicate that in head and neck patients with pre-radiation positron emission tomography scans, a significant decrease in activity should occur after radiation therapy, if local control is to be expected.